"The gap between government inaction and the disaster of the climate emergency is becoming easier to see"
Extinction Rebellion has been an incredibly successful protest group. In one year they have forced Parliament to declare a climate emergency and ensured that the climate emergency was a top issue during the General Election, with Channel 4 organising the first climate change hustings.
During the recent General Election, the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems all presented policies that, for the first time, started to match the scale of the transformation needed to save the planet. None of the parties get it the way the Green Party does, but there is a world of difference between the vision put forward by the progressive parties and the paltry offering of the Conservatives.
Unfortunately, because of our voting system, the Conservatives won a Parliamentary majority, despite most people voting for those parties who take the climate emergency seriously. Getting 44% of the votes sounds substantial, and it is, but it leaves most of us without much of a voice.
So that leaves us in a situation where urgent action is essential, but five years of relatively little action by the UK government seems very likely.
Internationally, this gap between government inaction and the disaster of the climate emergency is becoming easier to see. As the fires raged in Brazil this summer, the President and his ‘cattle baron’ supporters were rightly seen as the cause of deforestation, rather than defenders of the earth’s lungs.
As the bush fires of Australia bring us terrifying images of devastation, many of us are remembering the Australian Prime Minister bringing a lump of coal into Parliament and declaring that people should ‘not be afraid”. Our own Boris Johnson is one of those leaders who will defend the economic status quo, even as it threatens the collapse of civilisation.
“Droughts that are one in a hundred years will happen every few years”
We don’t know for sure that the extreme weather events in 2020 will be worse than 2019, that isn’t how it works. It is just the frequency is more likely.
Droughts that are one in a hundred years will happen every few years. Sea or river defences, designed for exceptional floods that are one in a thousand years, will suddenly be relied upon on a regular basis. Crop failures that occasionally hit one of the major food producing regions of the world, might hit two, or three at the same time.
Each set of news images will fuel the public’s sense that Extinction Rebellion are right. If four of the major crop growing regions are hit at the same time, then that sense of public unease will turn into outright panic as supermarket shelves start to empty.
In the months since Extinction Rebellion was founded, the evidence that fuels their emotional appeal has grown ever stronger. So will Extinction Rebellion focus on the fossil fuel corporations involved in climate change, or the finance houses that enable those corporations? What demands will they promote now that Parliament has declared a climate emergency but failed to come up with a credible set of actions?
Will it be to move the zero-carbon date forward from 2050 to a more realistic 2030? Or to get behind the passing of the New Green Deal legislation into law? Having shifted the public debate, Extinction Rebellion now need to renew the political edge of their campaigning.
The police response to environmental protests has not been neutral or balanced. Despite austerity, the police have used hundreds of over-stretched officers to clamp down on local anti-fracking protests. The police sided with the fracking industry in trying to impose an unpopular policy onto rural communities.
“The Climate Emergency will be at the top of the political agenda and the pressure on Boris Johnson to act will be tremendous”
The government rigged the planning system to by-pass local democracy, people set up protest camps and the police tried to stop any disruption to the fracking industry. As the recent report by NetPol has shown, the police lost all sense of balance and side-lined their duty to facilitate the right to protest.
The same mistake has been made by the Metropolitan Police in dealing with the Extinction Rebellion protests. Rather than facilitating the right to protest while maintaining a healthy balance with the rights of Londoners to go about their work and leisure, the police tried to stop the rebellion taking place. I took them to court, alongside many others, and the Met Police lost, leading to hundreds of charges against protestors being dropped.
I can only hope that with the moratorium on fracking, the police are wondering whether being on the wrong side of history is a good place to be. They are already having decades of political policing slowly exposed as a result of the Public Inquiry into Spy Cops and they are losing more public support as a result of their actions against peaceful environmentalists.
“If we lose, then the planet loses and none of us can afford for that to happen”
The government are in a difficult position with the big climate change conference (COP2020) being hosted by the UK at the end of the year. This will clearly be a focus for established NGOs such as GreenPeace, as well as Extinction Rebellion activists. The Climate Emergency will be at the top of the political agenda and the pressure on Boris Johnson to act will be tremendous.
The government’s response in the Queen’s Speech has a lot of rhetoric about green investment, but includes the dropping of their previous commitment to a non regression clause in the Withdrawal Bill. This had guaranteed we would keep environmental protections when leaving the EU.
They also want to clamp down on the protest camps used by numerous groups such as the campaigners against the environmentally disastrous HS2. Protest camps are used as a way of organising and mobilising support. The government want new legislation to turn these centres of protest into a criminal trespass.
If the government seeks to confront Extinction Rebellion, rather than accommodate their demands, then the decisive factor is who will win the public’s support.
If we win that public debate then Boris Johnson will shift, just as he did on fracking. If we lose, then the planet loses and none of us can afford for that to happen.
Jenny Jones is a Green Party member of the House of Lords. Follow her on Twitter.
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